Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is a deluxe hotel at Walt Disney World (and soon to be Disney Vacation Club resort) that is themed to the South Pacific, with a distinct retro tiki culture styling. It is one of Walt Disney World’s original hotels, and recently reverted to its Polynesian “Village” name after years of just being Disney’s Polynesian Resort. Regardless of its official name, it’s known to most Disney fans simply as “the Poly.” It’s considered a village because of its sprawling layout comprised of 11 longhouses (hotel buildings) plus the Great Ceremonial House, which is the main lobby where the restaurants, shops, etc. are located.
We have long been fans of the Poly. For me, it dates back to when I was a kid, walking from Shades of Green to the Poly for the monorail, and going to the Neverland Club while my parents went to Pleasure Island. As adults, Sarah and I have spent a ton of time at the Poly despite never staying there. I even proposed to Sarah on the beach of the Polynesian during the fireworks back when we got engaged. We’ve since been back numerous times for dining and other purposes, but hadn’t stayed there until this year. Whenever we’ve wanted to do a stay in a Deluxe Resort, other options always had better discounts, so it was always on our “someday” list.
The point with all of this is that all of this build-up created pretty lofty expectations for the Poly. While we enjoy the hotel, we don’t think it’s quite worthy of the high praise it receives. It’s still an excellent resort, but it seems to be the overwhelming top pick for hotels at Walt Disney World, and we’re not quite that enthusiastic about it. As is the case with all Walt Disney World on-site hotels, Polynesian Village Resort guests receive MagicBands and can make FastPass+ reservations. Learn more about this in our MyMagic+ FAQ.
Before that, let’s take a look at the positives. The Poly is just a flat out cool resort. It has a ton of incredibly detailed tikis scattered around the grounds that were carved by Oceanic Arts in California. I could spend a morning just wandering around looking at these, and their cheeky designs always make me smile. In general, the Polynesian has a very enjoyable ambiance thanks to its many details and the general island ambiance that is so well conveyed, even if the resort is more a lighthearted caricature (not at all in a bad way) of island life than it is an attempt at authenticity. The feel of the Poly is a definite X-factor that might override all criticism below. In terms of theme, this is far and away my #1 resort at Walt Disney World.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Now through approximately March 2015, extensive lobby, restaurant, and pool renovations, plus construction to add Disney Vacation Club villas, are occurring at Disney’s Polynesian Resort. During this time, we strongly recommend booking a stay elsewhere.
In terms of layout, I think the Polynesian Resort will satisfy a variety of guests. I’ve stated in numerous reviews that I like resorts that are spread out, giving me plenty to explore in the mornings. I think this has perplexed a lot of commenters, who generally seem to favor compact layouts for the efficiency’s sake. The Poly is not as spread out as Coronado Springs or Caribbean Beach Resort, making it easy to walk to the Great Ceremonial House in the morning no matter the longhouse in which you’re staying. Despite this ease of access, there’s still a lot to explore, making those who prefer the sprawling “resort” layout (like me) happy. The only resort that does a better job of striking this balance is probably Wilderness Lodge (Grand Floridian also does it well).
Exploring the Polynesian is a ton of fun, too. I’ve long held the opinion that sunsets at the Polynesian are more beautiful than sunsets anywhere else at Walt Disney World, and after this trip, I’m convinced that the same is true of sunrises. One of the great things about staying at the Poly was getting up early and enjoying the resort with no one else around. Both mornings we were there, I got up well before sunrise to walk around, take photos, and soak up the ambiance. If it weren’t for wanting to take photos, I think I could have just lied in a hammock listening to the relaxing background music for an hour or so as the sun came up.
If you do stay at the Poly, consider it our mandate that you get up at least one morning to enjoy the sunrise (we have no means of enforcement, but trust us…do it). The ambiance at the Polynesian is always great, but with no one around at sunrise, you only have the sounds of the background music, the monorails, and boats doing test runs, making it feel like the perfect mix of being away from civilization in the tropics and being at Walt Disney World. The resort has a similar beauty at sunset, but the ambiance is not nearly as good. Since everyone else is awake, the resort is hustling and bustling. It may not sound fun to get up early on vacation, but try it sometime. I guarantee that it’ll be worth it!
We also enjoy simply hanging out in the Great Ceremonial House. While it does have some issues with datedness (discussed below), overall, it has some great ambiance. The open air atrium and waterfall in the middle of the lobby simultaneously add kinetic energy and a relaxed, spa-like atmosphere. It seems unlikely that a Disney hotel built today would devote so much space to a water fixture like this, especially one that occupies valuable real estate. It definitely makes the lobby a nice place to lounge around.
Fortunately, the Great Ceremonial House is receiving a massive update during the current refurbishment that will feature a substantial redesign and the addition of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto. We love Trader Sam’s at Disneyland, so we’re really excited to see it come to the Polynesian. Other plans for the lobby are a bit more controversial, including the downsizing of the water feature (pictured above), but we really like the concept art, and are actually looking forward to the changes.
Above is how the bedding used to look. Below is how it looks now.
The rooms are a big plus at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, and these might be some of the nicest at Walt Disney World after the big 2013 refurbishment. We’ve stayed in both the old rooms and the new rooms, and this review features both.
Above are the old bathrooms, below are the new ones.
As you can see, the Poly’s new rooms have light green walls, dual-sinks, and white bed comforters with tropical-print coverlets. They also received new carpet and minor design touches. Overall, the new rooms maintain the same feel as the old room in which we stayed, but with a more modern look. The big upgrade in terms of design seems to be the bedding. We think the new rooms are definitely nicer.
Above are the old closets (the new ones look basically the same). below is a view of the TV and re-designed couch.
In terms of commonalities between the old and new rooms, both are spacious, sleeping five adults with plenty of room to roam, and have space to sit, along with a desk for working and balconies with a table and chairs. Even these “old” rooms were fairly recently refurbished (mid-2000s, I believe), so they are still fairly nice.
In terms of dining, the Poly has three options that we love: Kona Cafe is an unheralded gem, Captain Cook’s is one of the best counter service restaurants at Walt Disney World, and ‘Ohana is one of Disney’s most popular restaurants. There’s also the popular Spirit of Aloha dinner show (which we have never done). While none of these are fine dining options, there are plenty of those at the Grand Floridian and Contemporary, which are a short monorail ride away. Fine dining in the Polynesian would be nice, but given the proximity of the other options, we aren’t penalizing the Poly for its lack of fine dining.
The pools at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort are fine. The main pool with its volcano slide is cool-looking, but we don’t consider the pool itself to be all that great. Kids are likely to love the slide going through the volcano, though. The quiet pool is nothing special, but it’s not bad. The Poly is probably about middle of the pack in terms of Deluxe Resort pools. The pool is slated to undergo a dramatic refurbishment for much of 2014 and possibly beyond.
Transportation is a complaint we have about every Magic Kingdom-area and Epcot-area Deluxe Resort, and that these high-priced hotels share buses while Pop Century (a Value Resort) does not continues to puzzle us. We feel this is a serious fault of all of these Deluxe Resorts, and something that Disney should correct. Fortunately, the Poly has convenient monorail or boat transportation to the Magic Kingdom, and many longhouses are a short walk from the Ticket & Transportation Center, which also offers monorail service to Epcot. Getting to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and the water parks is less convenient, but the convenient access to the two “big” parks is a big plus.
While we really like the Polynesian, we don’t consider it the end-all, be-all of Walt Disney World hotels, as it’s frequently considered. Why? Let’s take a look at room rates. Rates start at over $400/night and only go up from there. (Disclosure: our stay was comped.) For the rates Disney charges for the Polynesian Village Resort, it should be a luxury-class hotel. Although the theming is fun and as a fan of Disney history I love all of the little details, the Poly is not a luxury hotel.
While the rooms are nice overall, even the newly refurbished rooms lack some of the luxury amenities and finishing expected at a hotel with this price-point. Some guests might overlook this, either feeling that the themed design compensates for it, or not knowing what to expect from a hotel at a luxury price-point. It is a fair point to contend that the theming compensates, but there’s nothing to say that a room can’t be both well-themed and luxurious.
In any case, the rooms are not where the main criticism lies in terms of luxury–as the rooms are almost where they should be. The rest of the grounds and areas of the Polynesian are our main criticism. Admittedly, I’m a bit torn on this, as I love the remnants of the original “Vacation Kingdom of the World,” and I fear that these will disappear with any resort-wide overhaul, but there are many areas around the Polynesian that feel very dated and as if they’ve seen better days. In some ways, the overall theme does not successfully toe the line between tiki culture and outdated 1970s kitsch. Also, and this is a sticking point with us regarding all Walt Disney World Deluxe Resorts, but a luxury hotel concierge should be able to get hotel guests into sold out shows and booked restaurants. The Walt Disney World concierges don’t seem to serve the critical purposes they have at “real world” hotels at which we’ve stayed.
Of course, you pay a premium for everything at Walt Disney World, and I think a lot of this is due to location and immersion of the on-site experience. We understand this, and normally gladly pay the Disney premium. In this case, even accounting for that Disney premium, I think it’s tough to justify the Polynesian’s rates in terms of value for money. For a 1-night stay on January 5, 2014 (the start of Disney’s 35% off promo for Deluxes), the lowest-priced discounted night at the Poly would cost $313.72; for the Poly, this is about as low of a price as you’re going to find.
To put this into perspective, here are some rack rates for other hotels offering great locations: The Churchill in London is $341/night, Fairmont San Francisco is $249/night, Shorebreak Hotel (Huntington Beach, CA) is $209/night, and Waldorf Astoria Chicago is $279/night (the Orlando Waldorf is the same rate). With some effort, discounted rates for these other hotels could be found, too. Each of these hotels offers significantly better guest amenities than the Poly. For more on what might be right for you, check out our comprehensive On-Site v. Off-Site Hotels at Walt Disney World article.
Even with a generous discount (or, say, “free” dining), a Walt Disney World vacation that includes a stay at the Poly is still quite expensive. Granted, all of the Deluxe Resorts are pricey, but the only one as or more expensive than the Poly is Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, which made our list of the most overrated things at Walt Disney World, so you should know exactly where we stand on that. The rest of the Deluxes are all less expensive, in some cases significantly less so. Two of our favorite Deluxes, Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge, would be around $207 each for that same night in January after discounts. Still expensive, but in line with what we’d expect for their location and quality.
I suppose this is probably the biggest sticking point–the Poly is over $100/night more than some of our other favorite Deluxe Resorts, without enough justification as to why. Sure, it has some advantages, and is arguably the “coolest” Walt Disney World resort-hotel, but $100+ per night of advantages? We just don’t see that. Everyone has their “line,” and it seems ours is approximately the Poly (and Grand Floridian). This doesn’t make the Poly a bad hotel by any stretch, but it’s just difficult for us to justify the price given the value for money we feel the hotel offers. We still love its ambiance, but I doubt we will return until we can find an off-season 35-40% off rate after the big Disney Vacation Club expansion concludes.
Overall, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is a great option for those who are dead-set on the Poly and want to splurge on a trip, for those who want this particular style of resort hotel and have budgeted for a Deluxe Resort, or if money is no issue. Despite feeling that it doesn’t quite offer the value for money that it should, we still love the Poly. Its theme and ambiance are exceptional, and it’s a great place to simply hang around and wander. However, given that price point, for now we feel that we can love it while enjoying meals or drinks there. When it comes to actually staying there, we can’t help but think what that money could buy us elsewhere. The Poly is an excellent Disney hotel with great history (to learn more about this history, check out the Tikiman’s site), and we’ll likely stay again once the Disney Vacation Club construction is completed, but for now, when we’re in the mood for a Deluxe Resort, we’d rather stay at one of our cheaper favorites. Hopefully Disney takes the opportunity while building the new Disney Vacation Club units to freshen up the entire resort. Trader Sam’s at Disneyland has proven there’s still demand for tiki culture like that found at the Poly (Disney certainly doesn’t need to go the realistic “Aulani route” with the Poly), so here’s hoping that Disney manages to blend that with a modern sense of luxury sufficient to justify the luxury price point the Poly commands. The new rooms are a good start, let’s see how the rest of the overhaul pans out!
Not sure which Walt Disney World hotel is right for you? Check out our Walt Disney World Hotel Reviews page, which offers quick-hit capsule reviews of the strengths and weaknesses of every Walt Disney World hotel, plus links to our reviews and photo pages for every hotel we have reviewed.
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How do you feel about Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort? Do you agree that it’s a bit overpriced for what it is, or do you think it’s such an awesome place that it justifies the high nightly rates? Share your thoughts in the comments!